Finding the moral of the story

14 Jul

One well-intentioned but misguided method of reading (and teaching) the Bible is this: we read Bible stories as though they are essentially fables, designed for us to learn the moral of the story so we can be better people (or, perhaps, better Christians). This kind of reading, while not unprofitable, inclines us all too often to miss the point of the biblical author.

Let me offer what is, in my mind, one clear example of this kind of exegesis. Some very memorable Bible stories come from the book of Judges; Samson and Gideon are both first-ballot members of the Flannelgraph Hall of Fame. But the overall point of the book of Judges is not to highlight great models of heroic faith; rather, the author is recounting the dark days in Israel in which everyone did what was right in his own eyes because there was no king in Israel. Thus, if we teach the story of Gideon primarily to admonish us to greater obedience in faith (or to make some such other immediate application), we have failed to understand the point that the author was trying to make: Israel needs a king. Ultimately, we need a King. We miss the point of the stories if we fail to relate them to the story of the Bible.

That story, the story of the Bible, is the story of God’s working to establish a Kingdom for his Son.

My point here is not to dissuade us from looking for and preaching practical applications from narrative passages; rather, I want to admonish us all to do so only secondarily, after we give careful attention to the point of the narrative within the bigger story of God’s ultimate purposes.

1 Comment

Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Theology


One response to “Finding the moral of the story

  1. Steven Thomas

    July 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    This is an excellent point, Michael. This same reasoning underlies my own general aversion to biographical sermons. Such sermons usually become a foil for psychological “insights” or become extended allegories used to illustrate conventional evangelical wisdom that has nothing to do with the text. I have rarely (never?) heard a biographical sermon that enlarged the audience’s understanding of authorial intent by connecting the sermon to the point of the book. Matthewson’s, “The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative,” should be required reading in every homiletics class.

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